Marchio Irfan Gorbiano
The Jakarta Post PREMIUM Jakarta / Sat, December 26, 2020
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) youth wing GP Ansor chairman Yaqut Cholil Qoumas (left) holds a press briefing in 2018 in response to an incident in which members of NU’s Barisan Ansor Serbaguna (Banser) youth wing allegedly burned a black flag belonging to the outlawed Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia extremist group.
Ansor’s Yaqut was appointed the nation’s latest Religious Affairs Minister replacing Fachrul Razi, following a Cabinet reshuffle ahead of Christmas 2020.(The Jakarta Post/Dhoni Setiawan)
In last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, one appointment stood out for Indonesia’s vast Muslim majority. Fachrul Razi, a retired army general with a penchant for stirring debate, had been replaced as religious affairs minister by Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, the chairman of GP Ansor, the youth wing of the nation’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).
For keen observers, the switch marked a return to regular practices, in which the Religious Affairs Ministry portfolio would be handed to a senior figure of the NU, as per tradition. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had made the bold move of installing Fachrul in October 2019, drawing ire from the grassroots organization. A close ally of senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan, Fachrul became only the third person of a military background to occupy the post, if only for a year.
In the span of 14 months, the Hanura Party cadre sparked outrage for attempts to ban Muslim dress, cancel hajj pilgrimage departures over pandemic concerns and involve the military in fostering religious harmony. Read also: Latest Cabinet reshuffle welcomes business heavyweights, politicians Experts, however, believe the most recent leadership change had served to accentuate Jokowi’s intent to maintain stability in the face of heightened tensions with hardline ideological groups.
Recent trends show that strands of Islamic groups outside of NU and Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Muslim group, had begun to proliferate again, aggressively occupying public spaces with their provocative rhetoric.
The appointment of Yaqut – widely known as Gus Tutut – showed that Jokowi was taking the issue more seriously, said political analyst Adi Prayitno of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta. “This is the President’s answer to the rising radicalist [sentiment] of late,”
Adi told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. “Yaqut is not only [someone who is] prepared to compete at the discourse level; he is prepared to put his life on the line.” As the leader of GP Ansor, Yaqut wields considerable influence over a group that is used to playing the role of gatekeeper to the state ideology Pancasila, national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) and Islam Nusantara, the prevailing strand of Islam that shows syncretism and reflects the nation’s multicultural realities.